What is the one symbol that distinguishes us from all other Faith groups and religions? It is the cross and what the cross means for us as Christians. Many religions share a belief in a deity and a God. Many of them acknowledge that there is one God, not many. Each faith has its own set of Scripture or Holy Text. For Christians it is the Bible, the Jewish Faith has the Torah and so on. Many, but certainly not all, of the world religions also have a distinguished prophet, leader or teacher. For us it is Jesus. Jesus, for us, is someone who is more than a prophet or noted leader. He is seen to be both fully human and fully divine and is someone who died for the salvation of the world. The cross, a symbol of life and death and resurrection and everything in between.
Welcome to Holy Cross Day. This is the day where we focus once again on the Cross and what this symbol means for us as Christians and the power it has for the world. Wherever we may be in the world the cross reminds us of our connection to one another as Christians and the mission that we share in the world. This is where some of us have gotten into trouble. We know the passage from today’s Gospel very well. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3: 16). This is the one text that has been used by many for so many years as a weapon to convert and assert authority and domination over others and their beliefs. It is uncomfortable to admit this and acknowledge that some texts, as valuable as they are to us, have been used in painful ways. But to restore the Goodness that they contain we need to acknowledge how they have been used and continue to be used by some. Believe it or not, this one text has caused a lot of damage and hurt with other Faith groups.
Traditionally certain people within the Christian tradition have interpreted this text to mean that all of humanity, regardless of their respective traditions and beliefs need to be converted to Christianity because as verse 17 asserts, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3: 17). Jesus is the one who has and will continue to save the world. In 2016 we realize very clearly how this text may be oppressive to some.
The Bible contains many texts that are comforting and live affirming for us. Our Bible also contains texts that make us uncomfortable and unsettled. All these in their context are necessary for us to read and study for our faith development, journey and salvation. All texts serve to mold and shape us into the people we are in the world, even the ones we don’t understanding or strongly disagree with. This particular text does not mean that the cross and Jesus is our salvation and the salvation for all humanity regardless of their faith systems. That would be a narrow interpretation of the text and one that excludes the value of others and what other Faiths offer in understanding the Divine. One of the most affirming and life giving teachings we have is that there are many ways to know God. For us as Christians, our way to know God is through Jesus and the power of the cross to overcome death.
As we gather on this Holy Cross Day to reflect on the cross we come with questions. Many of them unanswered but come to us as a mystery that is still unfolding to us. The cross holds many meanings and understandings. Some of these we recognize. We recognize the One who died on a cross, a long time ago, in order to overcome death and bring us life, new life in Christ and God. What adds to the mystery and depth of the cross is that there is so much more that we do not know that lies in wait to be discovered. We have a faith and a God where we are constantly learning and discovering new things about our God and faith which in turn leads to new learning and discovery about ourselves.
As we reflect upon the cross, about life, death and resurrection we can take this opportunity to reflect more deeply in our own lives. What are the areas and aspects of our life that full us with joy wonder and that are life giving? What are those areas and aspects of our lives that hold us back from living fully into our Christian calling? What are those areas and aspects in our lives that we need to let go in order for new opportunities to begin to take root and grow?
We stand on the doorstep of the Harvest and Thanksgiving season. When we come to the altar of God we bring ourselves and all that has been accomplished and all that remains to be discovered and we give thanks for the One who lived to show us a better way to live out our humanity.
On this Holy Cross Day let us “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122: 6). Let us pray for the religions of the world that together we may engage in respectful dialogue. May the people of the world be drawn to a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Divine.